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Online Safety is for Teachers Too

April 30th, 2008 Dennis Harter 5 comments

Ian Shapira from The Washington Post has written an article this week describing how many young teachers in Washington DC have Facebook accounts that are publicly accessible and are filled with content that represents them in inappropriate ways. Essentially, they are being young adults, but in a way that they don’t realize is in the public domain.

It’s almost like Googling someone: Log on to Facebook. Join the Washington, D.C., network. Search the Web site for your favorite school system. And then watch the public profiles of 20-something teachers unfurl like gift wrap on the screen, revealing a sense of humor that can be overtly sarcastic or unintentionally unprofessional — or both.

The article goes on to ask whether teachers should be judged on their out-of-school lives if it doesn’t affect their effectiveness with students:

Do the risque pages matter if teacher performance is not hindered and if students, parents and school officials don’t see them? At what point are these young teachers judged by the standards for public officials?

In states including Florida, Colorado, Tennessee and Massachusetts, teachers have been removed or suspended for MySpace postings, and some teachers unions have begun warning members about racy personal Web sites. But as Facebook, with 70 million members, and other social networking sites continue to grow, scrutiny will no doubt spread locally.

Whether they “should” or not is a big discussion point, but whether they “will” or not really isn’t.

In today’s society where political correctness reigns and public scrutiny and “moral” standards are held in front of everyone’s face, there is no doubt that Washington DC will follow the other states in removing teachers for social networking behavior.

Do adults need to be re-taught what privacy means since it’s meaning has changed with the coming of the internet?

Do they know how to manage their own Facebook accounts – never mind teach students how to protect theirs?

Like several other teachers interviewed, Webster said she thought her page could be seen only by people she accepted as “friends.” But like those of many teachers on Facebook, Webster’s profile was accessible by the more than 525,000 members of the Washington, D.C., network. Anyone can join any geographic network.

Are young teachers in training ready to defend their Facebook profile in an interview?

“I know for a fact that when a superintendent in Missouri was interviewing potential teachers last year, he would ask, ‘Do you have a Facebook or MySpace page?’ ” said Todd Fuller, a spokesman for the Missouri State Teachers Association, which is warning members to clean up their pages. “If the candidate said yes, then the superintendent would say, ‘I’ve got my computer up right now. Let’s take a look.’ “

Ultimately, the lessons of cyber-safety and responsibility that we teach our students needs to be shared with our teachers too. It should be included in their professional training (along with learning to use web 2.0 tools to enhance education of course).

All students, no matter what future profession they go into, also need to see the importance of knowing what they share and how they share online. And what better way to model this for a teacher than to share the very impact it has on our own lives and how we are perceived through what we and others share online.

Too many believe that the rules of public behavior are abandoned in Facebook. Here’s a terrific video which makes this very clear. Thanks to Brian Lockwood for the link to this on Twitter.


Teens protecting themselves

July 31st, 2007 Dennis Harter 1 comment

Not to belabor a point, but here’s another article on social networking safety. In particular, I like this quote:

Increasingly, it’s the teens who are starting to protect themselves.

According to the article, a Pew Internet & American Life Project study indicates that about 1/4th of teens with online profiles use their full name and only 11% make them visible to the public eye. Most are marking their sites as private, only for friends (or people they claim to know…an important distinction that we can’t forget).

I like the sound of this. My worry has been that we need to teach this stuff…I think that we still do. But it’s good to know that despite our slowness to change in schools, that kids are figuring this stuff out. Not enough though, as I mentioned in another post.

Safety by accidentStill, this is good news. With our help, just imagine how safe they could be.

Then again they are also still behaving irresponsibly…and that’s our job too.

Here are some other stats (good news and bad news) from that same study that the Washington Post shared in another article:

  • 82% include their first name.
  • 79% post photos of themselves.
  • 66% include photos of their friends.
  • 61% include the name of their city.
  • 49% include the name of their school.
  • 40% have included an instant-message screen name.
  • 40% stream audio to the profile.
  • 39% link to a blog.
  • 29% include an e-mail address.
  • 29% included their last name.
  • 29% post videos.
  • 2% include a cellphone number.

And if you are really interested here’s a third WashPosting with data on teens and maintaining privacy from that same Pew study.

By the way…I’m back from vacation…lots to do…write…think….not in that order, I hope.

Photo found through Flickr Creative Commons.

Photo by Endlisnis.

Our Imperative to teach Safe, Responsible Social Networking

March 20th, 2007 Dennis Harter No comments

(originally posted on harterlearning on Mar 7, 2007)
The Washington Post has had some gems lately…glad I have them on my Netvibes.

A recent article delves into a continuing, but also growing problem in online social networking sites where rumors and disinformation and personal attacks are impacting people’s lives negatively (to understate it). It’s a very scary article on what happens when the Web 2.0 tool gets used badly.

The article starts with the story of a Phi Beta Kappa, Yale Law graduate who did not get many call backs and received no job offers. Though admittedly difficult to prove, she claims that this was a result of deragatory postings about her in a well-read public forum on AutoAdmit.

The woman and two others interviewed by The Washington Post learned from friends that they were the subject of derogatory chats on a widely read message board on AutoAdmit, run by a third-year law student at the University of Pennsylvania and a 23-year-old insurance agent. The women spoke on the condition of anonymity because they feared retribution online.

The forum in question contains useful information about law schools and law firms, but also contains hundreds of posts filled with racism and bigotry. But the site’s founder says it’s free speech.

The students’ tales reflect the pitfalls of popular social-networking sites and highlight how social and technological changes lead to new clashes between free speech and privacy. The chats are also a window into the character of a segment of students at leading law schools. Penn officials said they have known about the site and the complaints for two years but have no legal grounds to act against it. The site is not operated with school resources.

This is out there. It’s real. How much more hiding from it can educators do? Ignorance on this type of thing is simply no longer acceptable for teachers. This is the world that a participatory web 2.0 has created. One in which anyone can say anything about anyone else. We can’t just teach kids to protect themselves, instead teachers have to assume the responsibility of teaching students to be responsible users as well.

The technology is new(ish), but it isn’t going away. As a teachnology facilitator, it’s my job to make sure that teachers get this. I need to show them how important it is for our students to learn how to use the tool properly AND responsibly. It is worth noting here that the “misuers” in this article are law students slandering their peers.

Dare I quote it? “With great power comes great responsibility.” (Thanks, Spidey.)

The educational power of Web 2.0 is out there for us to embrace: collaboration, critical thinking, communication. But not all teachers have jumped on board. Maybe we are still too content focused in our curriculum. Maybe “the kids are going to learn the technology anyway”, since they spend so much time on it outside of school (side note: why wouldn’t this be a reason to make school more like that?). But even if that’s the case, this article reminds us how important it is to have conversations with students about the implications of their actions.

So whose job is this? Only mine as the tech. guy? Parents? What about all educators? What about the village? But here in lies the rub: most of those people don’t even know what’s out there. They don’t know that this technology exists, that kids are using it, that kids are learning in it, and that kids are misusing it too.

Like so many things, the answer lies not in protection, but in education. But that adds to our problems as more and more schools are knee-jerking their way to blocking access and sealing off their schools from the participatory culture that’s out there. So we emphasize the good, make little of the bad (see Jeff’s ThinkingStick post on this), and get people on board.

So when’s a good time to bring in the bad? To have those real conversations with kids? How about ALL THE TIME. Damn…that puts me back at square one…I have to get our teachers to see this as their job. I want to be obsolete as Jeff suggests (well, the job anyway…not me personally), but I don’t see that happening any time soon.

That’s the key to this Web 2.0 participatory environment…it’s put power into everyone’s hands. And we just haven’t prepared everyone for that kind of responsibility.

It’s no wonder that there is misuse, just as it is no wonder that some are learning on their own how to behave well and how to protect themselves (great post on this from Justin at Medagogy and teacher directed kids learning based at ThinkingStick).

But we can’t rely on self-learning anymore, because it is about more than skills that we can scope and sequence. It’s about responsible use as well. It’s the job of all educators to make sure that students get that. And teachers will get there, because we can’t afford not too…I just hope it’s fast enough for our students’ sake.